Following I will identify areas that make web-based maps inaccessible as per WCAG 1.0 (please see section: 'Questions and Possible Research Areas').
Shout for Help
Question: How can Internet Mapping Applications be made accessible for users with disabilities?
If you are currently working on resolving any (or all) of these issues, know of somebody that is working on them or even know existing solutions, I would greatly appreciate if you pointed them out to me.
It is absolutely impossible to continue with our current approach to seek exceptions as a 'work-around'!
It is important to note that I'm not talking about simple Google maps like driving directions or locate services that could be described through alternative, textual output.
Many times a map is the means to select, query, mix and eventually analyze data across multiple layers from multiple services. The input requires good vision and motor skills (mouse) and same applies to the output that is highly visual as well.
A simple example that illustrates this fact pretty well is shown in Figure 1, Drive Times from a specific location based on traffic grid.
Section 508 as explained by Authority 29 U.S.C. 794d: “Section 508 requires that when Federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, Federal employees with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency. Section 508 also requires that individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.”
This law is extended and applicable to companies that develop applications for the agency, i.e. ESRI has to adhere to the Section 508 Standards.
The Section 508 Checkpoints were translated into Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which cover most of Section 508 and describe its implementation in terms of HTML & CSS.
So far, exceptions to this law have been granted for the specific case of online maps. It is believed to impose an ‘undue burden’ to the agency/contractor to make maps accessible. In many cases a 1-800 number was provided that would help the user to get the same information.
Questions and Possible Research Areas
Currently the following WCAG checkpoints are Level 1 (A) show-stoppers and need to be solved/researched/implemented:
Checkpoint 1: Provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content
How to read a map when blind? E.g. redundant text for active regions/content.
Checkpoint 2: Don’t rely on color alone
Map application could provide different color schemes/black&white/shades of gray?!
Checkpoint 6: Ensure that pages featuring new technologies transform gracefully
How to provide a map (or alternative) that can be used when scripts are turned off?
Checkpoint 8: Ensure direct accessibility of embedded user interfaces
Do not write event-handlers that rely on mouse-coordinates (device-independence; see also Checkpoint 9)
Checkpoint 9: Design for device-independence
How to navigate a map without a mouse?
Checkpoint 12: Provide context and orientation information
How to describe the content of a map (especially after a change, e.g. query)?
You know of a solution?
Please get in touch with me if you know of solutions to these problems!
I hope that solutions for these problems can be found and maps become available to everyone. As always, not only users with disabilities will benefit from these efforts but also the applications themselves, e.g. better SEO (search engine optimization), alternative support for mobile user agents, assistance for elderly people, etc.
In short: WCAG 1.0, at least for the next couple of years.
Standards Compliancy - Pro's and Con's.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are a final Web Standard "W3C Recommendation" and offer many advantages over WCAG 1.0. Blogs like Opera Developer Network suggest to use WCAG 2.0 rather than 1.0 because "[it] is easier and clearer to use, contains test statements (known as Success Criteria), can be applied to all web technologies (and not just W3C technologies like WCAG 1.0) and comes with lots of supporting documentation".
Standards compliancy will benefit your project in many ways, from code maintenance (faster code review/debugging) and repurpose (separate content from presentation) to bandwidth (master stylesheet helps reducing size of individual pages).
On the flip-side standards add load and thus expenses to projects and developers and are controversial in many cases.
Section 508 is a US law
Philosophy aside, Section 508 is a US law that renders above discussion obsolete and needs to be taken seriously. Not directly related but still a wake-up call is Target's non-compliance with the Unruh Civil Rights Act, California Civil Code §§ 51 et seq., the Disabled Persons Act, California Civil Code §§ 54 et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181 et seq. which resulted in a six million dollars settlement this month. Sorry to get you down to earth so quickly.
Timeline for Section 508 to adapt WCAG 2.0
508 is undergoing a revision over the next couple years.
The first stage of that was an Advisory committee (TEITAC) that came up with recommendations
The advisory committee contained several WCAG Working group members and both TEITAC and WCAG worked together to harmonize. And, though they weren't completely harmonized (since both changed a bit at the end) all comments from members to access board were to continue harmonization in further steps.
The Access Board's advisory committee on 255/508 (TEITAC) recommended that any new regs harmonize with WCAG 2.0, and the report's own proposed provisions themselves were pretty well harmonized, as Judy Brewer, Gregg Vanderheiden, and others from WCAG were on TEITAC. Expect Access Board action in 2009. View the report here:
Short version is that the recommendation is that 508 be harmonized with WCAG 2.0. You can subscribe to updates from the Access Board (I think, I can't find the link now) at access-board.gov. If you allow 2.5 years from the turning in of the report to the actual date the new guidelines take effect, look for 2011 or so. IIRC, the 2.5 years is how long it took for 508 to really go into effect the first time, but I could be wrong.
Don't get me wrong, W3C WAI (and myself) recommends using WCAG 2.0, instead of WCAG 1.0 but to satisfy the law one needs to comply with WCAG 1.0.
That doesn't mean your company shouldn't prepare for the transition, not at all. To help you move to WCAG 2.0, WAI currently offers the following tutorials/articles:
- How WCAG 2.0 Differs from WCAG 1.0
- Comparison of WCAG 1.0 Checkpoints to WCAG 2.0
- How to Update Your Web Site from WCAG 1.0 to WCAG 2.0
What are your experiences?